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Bikeshare Startup Ofo’s Future Is Looking Dim. What Went Wrong?

The Chinese company seemed to be dominating its corner of the shared mobility market—until its dramatic downfall.
January 2, 2019, 7am PST | Camille Fink
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Michael Coghlan

Ofo bikes were once ubiquitous in China and located in over 20 other countries around the world, but the company now may be headed toward bankruptcy. "Ofo was a phenomenon. Its dockless bicycles, which could be picked up by scanning a QR code and left anywhere, grew from Beijing campuses to become an icon of young, urban cool. The firm garnered a valuation of US$2-billion," report Pei Li and Josh Horwitz.

The specific cause of Ofo’s problems isn’t entirely clear. The company grew quickly, and some say it happened too fast. Ofo also faced a host of smaller competitors, many of which have gone out of business, and the fight to stay on top contributed to cost overruns. In addition, a plan to expand into Japan fell through, and its operations have been hindered by local traffic regulations and vandalism.

The Ofo situation has Chinese tech investors worried, and Chinese consumers are unhappy as well. "In China, once-loyal users have turned on Ofo, lining up at its offices in Beijing to demand the return of deposits paid upfront to use the service. More than 12 million people have so far requested repayment online," say Li and Horwitz.

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Published on Monday, December 24, 2018 in The Globe and Mail
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